Showing posts sorted by relevance for query art of deduction. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query art of deduction. Sort by date Show all posts

29 January 2013

The Art of Detection

by Dale C. Andrews

    When I was in high school, back in the 1960s, I stumbled onto a paperback book entitled Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.  The book, which was published in 1962, was not written by Arthur Conan Doyle.  The author of this “biography" of Holmes was W.S. Baring-Gould.  As a mystery fan I immediately purchased and then devoured the volume.

   Baring-Gould, as I later found out, was a Baker’s Street Irregular who had devoted much of his life to the study of Sherlock Holmes.  Among the things that interested me about the book were “facts” set down by Baring-Gould concerning the life of Holmes that were not elsewhere reflected in the Arthur Conan Doyle canon.  To wit, Holmes, according to Baring-Gould, was born on January 6, he lived to the ripe age of 108, and in his 108th year he completed an omnibus retrospective on his own life and work, The Art of Deduction

    As I have discussed at some length previously, I am a big fan of hidden alignments that seem to pop up in the world around us, facts that square up in ways that break the boundaries of coincidence and thereby hint at an underlying order.  And we now have yet another example of exactly such an alignment. 

    According to Ellery Queen’s 1957 novel The Finishing Stroke, Queen was born in 1905, the same year that his creators Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee were born.  So this year, 2013, would be Ellery’s 108th year.  And commemorating that event Professor Francis M. Nevins, the world’s preeminent Queen scholar (and a man whose own birthday, January 6, is the same as Holmes’) has published a true magnum opus on Ellery, entitled Ellery Queen:  The Art of Detection.  

     I shared a cup of coffee with Mike Nevins in St. Louis over Christmas (well, actually he drank soda) and he laughed off all of the Holmes/Queen alignments set forth in the previous paragraphs as mere coincidence.  The most he will get from me on this is a wink and a smile.  Unwitting or not, to my mind it is kismet that is playing with us here.

    Of course, the comparisons between Holmes at 108 and Queen at the same age, and between the works of Baring-Gould and Nevins, are not perfect.  For one thing, while Holmes’ The Art of Deduction never in fact existed, Nevins’ The Art of Detection, by contrast, is wonderfully real, all 351 pages of it.  But before getting to this encyclopedic tribute to all things Queen, let’s tarry just a moment and talk about Mike. 

Mike in St. Louis, December 23, 2012
    Mike Nevins  is Professor Emeritus at St. Louis University Law School, and is a magna cum laude graduate of St. Peters College and a cum laude graduate of New York University School of Law.  For many years he taught law, specializing in copyright law, in St. Louis.  But as all Queen aficionados know, Mike’s interests run well wide of legal matters.  He has written definitive literary analyses on subjects as disparate as Cornell Woolrich and Hopalong Cassidy.  Mike has also published six novels, two collections of short stories, several books of non-fiction and has also edited more than 15 mystery anthologies and collections.  More importantly, and, luckily for us, he is, without question, one of the world’s leading authorities on Ellery Queen and the collaborative team that was Queen:  Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.  Mike has twice won  Edgar Allan Poe Awards for critical works, once for an earlier study of Ellery Queen and once for his volume on Cornell Woolrich.  Mike is also the author of one of the finest Ellery Queen pastiches ever written, Open Letter to Survivors. Who better to offer the reading public the definitive analysis of the works of Ellery Queen?

    As noted above, Mike’s 1974 Royal Bloodlines has already garnered an Edgar for its treatment of the Dannay and Lee writing team.  In the introduction to The Art of Detection the basis for his new second take on the same subject is explained by Mike as follows:
I think I just heard a question.  “Hey, didn’t you do that book already, back in the Watergate era?  Well, sort of.  But as I got older I became convinced that I hadn’t done all that good a job.  Fred Dannay was the public face of Ellery Queen, and in the years after we met he became the closest to a grandfather I’ve ever known, but I never really got to know the much more private Manny Lee.  He and I had exchanged a few letters, and we met briefly at the Edgars dinner in 1970, but he died before we could meet again.  Because of his untimely death, Royal Bloodlines . . .  inadvertently gave the impression that “Ellery Queen” meant 90% Fred Dannay.  One of the most important items on my personal bucket list was to do justice to Manny.
    That concern (notwithstanding that prior Edgar award) is completely addressed and fully remedied in The Art of Detection, which painstakingly traces the lives, times and collaboration of the two cousins who invented Ellery the detective and Ellery the writer and editor.  No matter how familiar you are with Queen, you will take away new knowledge when you finish reading The Art of Detection.  

    Like Joe Goodrich’s excellent volume from earlier this year, Blood Relations, which focused on the drafting of three of the best Queen novels in the late 1940s, much of the background material in The Art of Detection, notably including the legendary feuding between Dannay and Lee, is premised on the words of Dannay and Lee themselves, as forth in their letters, which are extensively quoted throughout the new Nevins work.  Also included are correspondence between Nevins himself and Dannay, and between Lee and legendary critic and writer Anthony Boucher, who famously opined that "Ellery Queen is the American detective story," and who contributed plotting to the Ellery Queen radio shows during times that family illnesses kept Dannay from performing that task.  The resulting narrative of the lives of these two writers, much of it in their own words, and of Queen, is a wonderfully detailed portrait.

    As already noted, The Art of Detection is encyclopedic in its coverage.  Beyond biography, the reader finds detailed discussions of all of the Queen books, as well as the various ventures into other media, including  the various radio shows featuring Ellery, the (often unsatisfying) Ellery Queen movies of the 1940s, the early television series, and the 1975 NBC series featuring Jim Hutton.  Mike has even offered detailed analyses of the infamous “ghosted”  Queen paperbacks, farmed out to other authors and then edited by Lee, which were commonplace on the paperback shelves of the 1960s.  In short, there is basically nothing about Ellery that is not addressed and answered by this fine work. 

    As any Ellery Queen fan is well aware, the Queen library, at least in the U.S., has teetered on the edge of extinction over the last few years.  Near the end of his book Mike comments on this as follows:
When the author dies, the work dies.  That is almost always the reality, and certainly it’s the rule in genre fiction.  There are always a few exceptions, like Agatha Christie and Louis L’Amour, but those authors are rarae aves.  I took it for granted that Ellery Queen was one (or two) of them.  I never thought I’d live to see the falling off into near oblivion of what had been a household name for more than a decade before I was born and for at least the first thirty years of my life.
    It is certainly true that it takes an historical perspective such as that provided by The Art of Detection to fully appreciate how much a part of mystery fiction Ellery was in the past, and how diminished his role is today.  But hopefully there is still time and space for resurgence.  Certainly excellent works such as The Art of Detection and Blood Relations, each of which has been offered to the reading public in the course of the past year, and Jeffrey Marks’ projected biography of Dannay and Lee, which should be out in 2015, contribute toward resurrecting the works of Queen.

    And speaking of kismet, another real indication of renewed interest in the works of Ellery Queen is evident on the very day this article is being posted.  Today, January 29, Calamity Town, a new play written by Joe Goodrich and based on the 1942 Queen novel that first introduced the upper New York State town of Wrightsville, has a "first reading" performance at the New Dramatists playhouse on West 44th Street in New York City.  Let's hope this is just the beginning for this latest Queen opus by Joe.

   There is also a new Ellery Queen pastiche (modesty compels me to not include the author in the foregoing list) coming out in EQMM sometime in the coming year.  And particularly eagerly awaited is the imminent re-issuance of 23 original titles in the Ellery Queen library, as reported by Janet Hutchings, editor of EQMM, in her editorial note following publication of Mike Nevin’s article End Time for Ellery? In the January 2013 issue of EQMM.  As Janet observed there, thanks to efforts such as Mike’s “Ellery Queen may soon enjoy a renaissance.”

    The once and future Queen?

27 September 2015

Queen's Quorum

by Dale C. Andrews
[T]he only rule . . . I know, [for writers] is that they write and they write some more and then they write still more and they keep on writing . . . . 
                                                          Frederic Dannay 
                                                          Carroll College, Waukesha, Wisconsin 
                                                          April 17, 1979 
                                                          Quoted in My Life with Ellery Queen 
                                                           by Rose Koppel Dannay 
 [A] pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.
                                                          Frederic Dannay (writing as Ellery Queen) 
A picnic is more than eating a meal, it is a pleasurable sate of mind.
                                                          DeeDee Stovel
                                                          Picnic: 125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus

Josh Pachter, Francis (Mike) Nevins
and Yours Truly (animation courtesy of Google+!)
      Last week, with the marriage of our younger son Colin just behind us, we waved good-by to family guests, turned on our heels, sorted out the guest room, and welcomed Francis (Mike) Nevins into our home for a three day visit. I first met Mike, an emeritus professor at St. Louis University Law School, author and scholar of all things Ellery Queen, back in 2005 at the Ellery Queen Centennial symposium hosted by EQMM. Since that time we have shared a few meals together, but never a prolonged visit. This time Mike was passing through Washington, D.C. enroute to Massachusetts to attend a memorial service for Rose Koppel Dannay, the third (and last) wife of Frederic Dannay, whom we all know as one-half of the Ellery Queen writing duo. 

       In his own blog First You Write, Mike has summed up the importance of Rose Dannay’s influence on Frederic Dannay succinctly: “It’s not going too far to say that Rose saved Fred’s life.” Dannay’s second wife had just died when he met Rose. Mike writes that at that meeting Rose found a broken man winding down his life, and Mike concludes that “[t]hat is what Rose saved him from.” Their marriage endured until his death, over the Labor Day weekend of 1982, at age 76.  

       In her later years Rose Dannay penned a memoir, originally privately published, entitled My Life with Ellery Queen chronicling her years with Dannay. The slim volume necessarily offers little insight into the early years of Ellery Queen, or into the life of Manfred B. Lee, the other half of the Queen duo, since Lee was gone by the time Rose entered Dannay’s life. But the book, which I read during Mike’s visit, is nonetheless a rich narrative of Dannay’s final years. And -- lucky us -- while the book has long been unavailable to the general public, within days all of that will change when it is re-issued together with a new (and lengthy) introduction written by Mike. 

       But enough of the past (well, sort of). One of the great things about the on-line age in which we live is the ease with which we can each reach out and connect with those whose interests we share. Those of us who are still Ellery Queen fans may be few in number, but among us the interest in Queen runs deep. And Mike’s short swing through Washington, D.C. afforded an opportunity for three of us to spend a great evening together in my backyard. 

       I knew of Josh Pachter before last week but we had never met, even though he lives in nearby Herndon, Virginia and teaches communications and human studies at equally nearby Northern Virginia Community College (where he is also an Assistant Dean). Josh is, however, an old friend of Mike’s and that proved the only catalyst needed in order to complete a "three musketeer" gathering. All three of us have not only read and studied the works of Ellery Queen, we have also each contributed our own works featuring, or inspired by Ellery. 

       Josh had his first short story published in EQMM at the tender age of 16, and has authored several Ellery Queen parodies, including "E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name" (EQMM December 1968), "E.Q. Griffen's Second Case" (EQMM May 1970) and "The German Cologne Mystery," co-written with Jon L. Breen and featuring Celery Green and his father, Inspector Wretched Green, (EQMM September/October 2005). Josh hints that he is working on yet another E.Q. Griffen story and hopes to share it with the reading world in 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his first E.Q. Griffen escapade. His most recent work is the short-story collection The Tree of Life (Wildside Press, 2015), available in paperback and (as The Mahboob Chaudri Mystery Megapack) in e-book format

       Mike Nevins has authored four novels, many short stories, and a number of non-fiction works offering up his take on mysteries and mystery writers. He has edited countless mystery anthologies and has won two Edgar awards, one for Royal Bloodlines, his first biography of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, and the second for First You Dream, Then You Die, focusing on the literature of Cornell Woolrich. And Mike is also famous, among other things, for his seminal Ellery Queen pastiche, “Open Letter to Survivors,” (EQMM May, 1972), which spins its narrative riff from the following passage that appears in Ellery Queen’s Ten Days’ Wonder: “. . . there was the case of Adelina Monquieux, [Ellery’s] remarkable solution of which cannot be revealed before 1972 . . . .” In addition to his upcoming introduction included in the newly re-published Dannay biography referenced above, Mike’s next work, They Called the Shots, a retrospective on Hollywood directors he has known, will be published by Ramble House within the next few weeks. Among his most recent works is the 2013 retrospective Ellery Queen -- The Art of Detection, an updated and definitive companion piece to Royal Bloodlines. 

Kurt Sercu and me last year
(doing a pictorial "one-off" of the cover of
Mike Nevin's The Art of Detection)
       Completing the trio assembled in my backyard on that Tuesday evening was, well, me. Accomplishments? Well, not all that many. But the Ellery Queen pastiches that I have authored include “The Book Case” (EQMM May, 2007), written in collaboration with my good friend Kurt Sercu, proprietor of Ellery Queen, a Website on Deduction, and featuring an elderly Ellery pulled from retirement to solve one last case involving many characters from earlier Queen novels, including principally the 1967 mystery Face to Face, “The Mad Hatter’s Riddle” (EQMM September/October, 2009), where characters from the 1938 Queen novel The Four of Hearts, reunite for the filming of an episode of the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen television series, and “Literally Dead” (EQMM December 2013), featuring a return, once again, to Wrightsville. 

       So the dinner cast was set and the evening was predictably great.

       But let’s be greedy. Who else could have been added to make that back yard dinner even better? Well my list of wished-for attendees would include the following: 

       Kurt Sercu, my friend, erstwhile collaborator and the proprietor of the aforementioned Ellery Queen website where, incidentally, you can read about all of the actual attendees in Kurt’s section discussing Ellery Queen pastiches and parodies. Kurt, who I first met on the internet in 2002, has three times made the trip across the pond from his native Belgium and knows my backyard well. Had he been here this time he could have shared stories with Josh in Flemish -- among his other accomplishments, Josh is fluent and has frequently translated mysteries from Dutch to English. 

Joseph Goodrich
       Joe Goodrich, author of Blood Relations, the collection of the 1940s correspondence between Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, and also the author of the play Calamity Town, which had a sneak preview for two days in Claremont, New Hampshire in 2013 and will have its official world premier at the Vertigo Theatre, Calgary, Canada next year.  (It will play there from January 23 through February 21, 2016.)

Douglas Greene
       Doug Greene, professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ellery Queen scholar, proprietor of Crippin and  Landru publications, and publisher of both The Tragedy of Errors, collecting previously unpublished Queen stories and essays, and featuring the outline of what would have been the final Ellery Queen mystery, and The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and Other Radio Mysteries, a 2005 collection of previously-unpublished Ellery Queen radio plays. Doug just had a birthday, so we would have added a cake to the menu!

Jon L. Breen
       John L. Breen, emeritus book review editor for EQMM, who has twice been awarded the Edgar Allan Poe Award, first in 1982 for What About Murder?: A Guide to Books About Mystery and Detective Fiction, and then in 1985, for Novel Verdicts: A Guide to Courtroom Fiction. He has written several novels and over 100 short stories, including several Ellery Queen pastiches and parodies, one of which, “The Adventure of the Disoriented Detective,” is available on Kurt’s website and another of which, “The German Cologne Mystery,” (see above) was co-authored with Josh. 

Arthur Vidro
       Arthur Vidro, yet another Queen scholar, author and publisher of (Give Me That) Old-Time Detection (a wonderful periodical dependably offering up Ellery Queen nuggets).  Arthur was the director of the first presentation of Joe Goodrich’s theatrical version of Calamity Town, and appeared in the production in a supporting role.  He is also the literary detective who (to my mind) has definitively established that Ellery Queen’s Wrightsville is modeled after Arthur’s hometown -- Claremont, New Hampshire.  Arthur has his own short Queen pastiche on-line on the EQMM website.  It can be read here.

Jeffrey A. Marks
       Each of these folks I have had the honor to meet and get to know in person over the years. And to the list I would add at least one more Ellery Queen expert and aficionado -- mystery writer and biographer Jeffrey A. Marks, an author who, thus far, I have met only on the internet. In addition to his many works, including his mystery series featuring Ulysses S. Grant, Jeff has penned biographies of famous mystery writers including Earl Stanley Gardner and Anthony Boucher.  His latest project?  Well, in the next year -- or perhaps a bit more -- Jeff will be releasing his new, and I will bet definitive, biography of the lives of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.   (Working title -- The American Detective Story.)

       Now THAT would have been a party!

(Most of the links and some of the graphics, above, are courtesy of Kurt's website Ellery Queen -- A Website on Deduction.  Always worth a visit, folks!)

05 March 2018

Misadventures

by Dale C. Andrews                                                 
 

[A] pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.  

    --  Ellery Queen
        The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes  (1944)   

We have been using the word "pastiche" for decades, at least since Ellery Queen's The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of such stories, was published in 1944.  

     --  Chris Redmond 
          "You Say Fanfic, I Say Pastiche -- Is  there a
           Difference?” (2015) 

       This week (I am happy to announce) marks the culmination of a project that has kept me fairly busy for a good bit of the last year -- the publication of The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, co-edited by Josh Pachter and me, Dale Andrews. The anthology collects, for the first time, 16 stories, written over the course of some 70 years. The stories are “misadventures,” that is, pastiches, parodies and other homages, all inspired by author/detective Ellery Queen. For Josh and me putting together this collection has been a work of love. And it has also been a project that has been, well . . a long time coming.   

       Many of you may remember from previous SleuthSayer articles that Ellery occupies a particularly warm spot in my writing heart. Over the years I’ve written three Ellery Queen pastiches that have graced the pages of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and I’ve written numerous articles on Ellery and his exploits that have appeared on SleuthSayers. While some of the backstory to The Misadventures of Ellery Queen predates SleuthSayers, the recent story of how the collection came into being can be traced through various footprints throughout the history of this website.   

     Books collecting “misadventure,” that is, anthologies that carry forth the exploits of an established character but in stories penned by other authors, have a long pedigree. The best examples of misadventures are the many stories and anthologies offering up new Sherlock Holmes stories written outside of the established Arthur Conan Doyle canon. And the first collection of such stories was The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by none other than -- Ellery Queen in 1944. (The collection was quickly withdrawn from the public following a copyright challenge from the Arthur Conan Doyle estate. Luckily for all of us the collection is now once again readily available.) 

       It was only natural that a fan of Ellery Queen who has also written new Ellery Queen adventures (that would be me!) would reasonably be expected to ponder why the stories not originally drafted by Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee but nonetheless featuring their detective creation Ellery have not been previously collected. EQ pastiches and parodies are not as numerous as those featuring Sherlock Holmes, but nevertheless many have popped up with some regularity since at least 1947, when Thomas Narcejac wrote (in French) Le Mystere de ballons rouge featuring Ellery, and the inspector. Since then Jon L. Breen, Francis Nevins, Edward D. Hoch and a host of others, both famous and lesser known, have also contributed Ellery Queen stories. So wouldn’t an Ellery Queen “misadventures” anthology make some sense?   

The Japanese Misadventures
     That was precisely the question I pondered in one of my earliest SleuthSayers articles, “Fair Play Mysteries and the Land of the Rising Sun,” which posted on October 25, 2011. At the time the article was written I had just received a request to allow my first EQ pastiche, “The Book Case,” written in collaboration with my good friend Kurt Sercu, proprietor of Ellery Queen -- A Website on Deduction, to appear in exactly such an anthology. That volume, also entitled The Misadventures of Ellery Queen was published in 2012. But, as that earlier SleuthSayers post explains, the book, edited by Iiki Yusan, who also heads up the Ellery Queen Fan Club in Japan, was intended for the Japanese market and the stories it collects have been translated into Japanese. All of this is explained (and lamented) in that earlier article. Even back then, as I indicated in a response to a comment, I was ruminating over the possibility of an English language Misadventures anthology.   

       From 2012 on my author’s copy of the Japanese Misadventures just sat there on my own book case -- staring at me accusingly as nothing happened and the years slipped by. Since I don’t read Japanese about the only thing I could meaningfully ponder in Iiki Yusan’s Misadventures was the list of contributing authors, which appeared in English at the back of the book. The list included the likes of Francis Nevins, Jon Breen, Ed Hoch, and even me. 

        Also a guy named Josh Pachter.   

       Josh Pachter? Back in 2011 when I wrote that first SleuthSayers column the name meant nothing to me.   

       Josh, it turned out, has written many mystery stories during a career of almost fifty years -- including several homages featuring a character by the name of E.Q. Griffen. The reason I was unfamiliar with  these stories is the same reason that I had concluded that we needed a collection of Ellery’s misadventures -- Josh’s Ellery Queen homages were nearly impossible to find. Like almost all EQ pastiches, parodies and homages they were published originally in issues of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and that had occurred many years ago. As a practical matter those magazine issues were unavailable to the vast majority of the reading public. But even given this, I began to hear more and more about Josh, including the fact that he lived not all that far away from me, outside of Washington, D.C. in the Virginia suburbs.   

       So let's skip a few years and eventually alight in yet another SleuthSayers article.   

       In the summer of 2015 I received an email from my friend Francis (Mike) Nevins informing me that he would be traveling through Washington, D.C. that September. I immediately offered up our guest room, and Mike accepted. 

        Mike Nevins, as many of you will know, is an emeritus professor at St. Louis University Law School, a preeminent Ellery Queen scholar and the author of many short stories and books, including two seminal biographical works chronicling the lives and works of the two cousins who were Ellery Queen -- Fred Dannay and Manfred B. Lee: Royal Bloodline: Ellery Queen, Author and Detective (1974) and the more recent Ellery Queen: The Art of Detection (2013). Mike’s 2013 book was, in fact, reviewed by me right here on SleuthSayers in January of 2013.   

       Mike is also the author of one of the finest Ellery Queen pastiches ever written -- “Open Letter to Survivors.”   

       When Mike accepted my invitation by return email he told me that he would really like to get together with an old friend during his D.C. stay. Another author. Named Josh Pachter. As I said, by then I knew who Josh was. Mike and I contacted Josh by email and dinner was scheduled for a September evening in the backyard of my home. The dinner (you guessed it) was the subject of my SleuthSayers article of September 27, 2015.    

Josh, Mike and me in the backyard. 
(Animation courtesy of Google!)
     As we chatted that evening it turned out that I was not the only one who had contemplated a collection of Ellery Queen misadventures. Josh’s first EQMM story -- that E.Q. Griffen homage -- was published in EQMM when he was just 16 years old, at a time when Frederic Dannay was still editor-in-chief of the magazine. Josh had thereafter become close friends with Dannay and had even broached the possibility of exactly such a volume with him. But nothing came of it.   

       It didn’t take long for the gears to begin to mesh. Maybe each of us thought. Just maybe working together we could actually do this.   

       And, to make a longer story short, we did! The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, which we compiled over the course of almost a year, has one story by each of us -- “The Book Case” for me; “E.Q. Griffen Earns his Name” for Josh. The other 14 stories are by other authors.  We had a lot of stories to choose from, and the final volume differs in many respects from the Japanese Misadventures anthology. Our book includes the first ever English translation of that 1947 Thomas Narcejac pastiche “The Mystery of the Red Balloons,” as well as Mike Nevin’s “Open Letter to Survivors.” Readers will also find Jon Breen’s pastiche “The Gilbert and Sullivan Clue,” and a particularly sneaky pastiche by Ed Hoch, which spent most of its literary life masquerading as an Ellery Queen-authored story . There are stories by Lawrence Block. William Brittain, James Holding and others. And the book also includes what is probably the most recent Queen homage (a sort of pastiche with it’s own twist) Edgar winner Joe Goodrich’s “The Ten-Cent Murder.” All of those, and quite a few others by authors famous and authors obscure share one thing in comon --  each was inspired by Ellery.   

       Josh and I are particularly pleased with the final product shaped by our publisher, Wildside Press, which has made the collection available in hard covertrade paperback, and Kindle editions.  

Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee
Picture courtesy of "Ellery Queen -- A website on Deduction"
       Choosing the stories, writing  introductions, and otherwise putting this volume together has been a joy for Josh and me for many reasons. Perhaps the greatest joy is mirrored in an observation by Janet Hutchings, editor of EQMM.  In these Misadventures, she has written, “Ellery Queen lives again.” That's what we were hoping for.   Dannay and Lee, writing as Ellery Queen observed in their introduction to that 1944 Sherlock Holmes Misadventure anthology that pastiches and parodies are "the next best thing to new stories."  

       And that was always what we wanted most to accomplish -- bringing some of the many adventures of Ellery Queen written by authors other than Dannay and Lee together in one volume.  We hope that readers will enjoy diving into these alternative adventures as much as we have enjoyed collecting them.

       One final note -- in addition to availability on-line, The Misadventures of Ellery Queen will also be on sale at the Malice Domestic convention at the end of April.  And Josh and I will both be there.  Just in case anyone might want . . . uhh . . . a signed copy?


06 December 2015

Sherlock Holmes meets O Henry, 1

by Leigh Lundin

Last month, we brought you a Sherlock Holmes parody by the author of Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie. A number of famous writers have penned takeoffs on Holmes. Today, we bring you a Holmesian tale from one of America’s best known authors.

O Henry
You might not recognize the name William Sydney Porter (spelled Sidney on his birth record) because he’s much more famous under his pen name, O Henry.

The author is known for his contemporary humor and twist endings. He wrote at least two Sherlock Holmes parodies featuring the characters Shamrock Jolnes and Dr. Whatsup. Not O Henry’s best works, the stories contain tepid joke endings. A number of jests and witticisms of the time can be found in this story, such as a comment on the price of gas for heating in New York City where O Henry’s characters reside.

We see here another example of British spellings still in use, much as we found in the works of Horatio Alger, Jr in post-Civil War America. Here the publish date is 1911, the eve of World War I, a year after O Henry's death.

After reading this, you’ll probably head to the bar for a stiff one, muttering, “Oh, man. O Henry gets this trash published and I can’t get an editor to look at my Sherlock in Love opus?”

You’ve been warned.

The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes

by O Henry
(© 1911)


I am so fortunate as to count Shamrock Jolnes, the great New York detective, among my muster of friends. Jolnes is what is called the “inside man” of the city detective force. He is an expert in the use of the typewriter, and it is his duty, whenever there is a “murder mystery” to be solved, to sit at a desk telephone at headquarters and take down the messages of “cranks” who ’phone in their confessions to having committed the crime.

But on certain “off” days when confessions are coming in slowly and three or four newspapers have run to earth as many different guilty persons, Jolnes will knock about the town with me, exhibiting, to my great delight and instruction, his marvellous powers of observation and deduction.

The other day I dropped in at Headquarters and found the great detective gazing thoughtfully at a string that was tied tightly around his little finger.

“Good morning, Whatsup,” he said, without turning his head. “I’m glad to notice that you’ve had your house fitted up with electric lights at last.”

“Will you please tell me,” I said, in surprise, “how you knew that? I am sure that I never mentioned the fact to any one, and the wiring was a rush order not completed until this morning.”

“Nothing easier,” said Jolnes, genially. “As you came in I caught the odour of the cigar you are smoking. I know an expensive cigar; and I know that not more than three men in New York can afford to smoke cigars and pay gas bills too at the present time. That was an easy one. But I am working just now on a little problem of my own.”

“Why have you that string on your finger?” I asked.

“That’s the problem,” said Jolnes. “My wife tied that on this morning to remind me of something I was to send up to the house. Sit down, Whatsup, and excuse me for a few moments.”

The distinguished detective went to a wall telephone, and stood with the receiver to his ear for probably ten minutes.

“Were you listening to a confession?” I asked, when he had returned to his chair.

“Perhaps,” said Jolnes, with a smile, “it might be called something of the sort. To be frank with you, Whatsup, I’ve cut out the dope. I’ve been increasing the quantity for so long that morphine doesn’t have much effect on me any more. I’ve got to have something more powerful. That telephone I just went to is connected with a room in the Waldorf where there’s an author’s reading in progress. Now, to get at the solution of this string.”

After five minutes of silent pondering, Jolnes looked at me, with a smile, and nodded his head.

“Wonderful man!” I exclaimed; “already?”

“It is quite simple,” he said, holding up his finger. “You see that knot? That is to prevent my forgetting. It is, therefore, a forget-me-knot. A forget-me-not is a flower. It was a sack of flour that I was to send home!”

“Beautiful!” I could not help crying out in admiration.

“Suppose we go out for a ramble,” suggested Jolnes.

“There is only one case of importance on hand just now. Old man McCarty, one hundred and four years old, died from eating too many bananas. The evidence points so strongly to the Mafia that the police have surrounded the Second Avenue Katzenjammer Gambrinus Club No. 2, and the capture of the assassin is only the matter of a few hours. The detective force has not yet been called on for assistance.”

Jolnes and I went out and up the street toward the corner, where we were to catch a surface car.

Half-way up the block we met Rheingelder, an acquaintance of ours, who held a City Hall position.

“Good morning, Rheingelder,” said Jolnes, halting.

“Nice breakfast that was you had this morning.” Always on the lookout for the detective’s remarkable feats of deduction, I saw Jolnes’s eye flash for an instant upon a long yellow splash on the shirt bosom and a smaller one upon the chin of Rheingelder -- both undoubtedly made by the yolk of an egg.

“Oh, dot is some of your detectiveness,” said Rheingelder, shaking all over with a smile. “Vell, I pet you trinks und cigars all round dot you cannot tell vot I haf eaten for breakfast.”

“Done,” said Jolnes. “Sausage, pumpernickel and coffee.”

Rheingelder admitted the correctness of the surmise and paid the bet. When we had proceeded on our way I said to Jolnes:

“I thought you looked at the egg spilled on his chin and shirt front.”

“I did,” said Jolnes. “That is where I began my deduction. Rheingelder is a very economical, saving man. Yesterday eggs dropped in the market to twenty-eight cents per dozen. To-day they are quoted at forty-two. Rheingelder ate eggs yesterday, and to-day he went back to his usual fare. A little thing like this isn’t anything, Whatsup; it belongs to the primary arithmetic class.”

When we boarded the street car we found the seats all occupied -- principally by ladies. Jolnes and I stood on the rear platform.

About the middle of the car there sat an elderly man with a short, gray beard, who looked to be the typical, well-dressed New Yorker. At successive corners other ladies climbed aboard, and soon three or four of them were standing over the man, clinging to straps and glaring meaningly at the man who occupied the coveted seat. But he resolutely retained his place.

“We New Yorkers,” I remarked to Jolnes, “have about lost our manners, as far as the exercise of them in public goes.”

“Perhaps so,” said Jolnes, lightly; “but the man you evidently refer to happens to be a very chivalrous and courteous gentleman from Old Virginia. He is spending a few days in New York with his wife and two daughters, and he leaves for the South to-night.”

“You know him, then?” I said, in amazement.

“I never saw him before we stepped on the car,” declared the detective, smilingly.

“By the gold tooth of the Witch of Endor!” I cried, “if you can construe all that from his appearance you are dealing in nothing else than black art.”

“The habit of observation -- nothing more,” said Jolnes. “If the old gentleman gets off the car before we do, I think I can demonstrate to you the accuracy of my deduction.”

Three blocks farther along the gentleman rose to leave the car. Jolnes addressed him at the door: “Pardon me, sir, but are you not Colonel Hunter, of Norfolk, Virginia?”

“No, suh,” was the extremely courteous answer. “My name, suh, is Ellison -- Major Winfield R. Ellison, from Fairfax County, in the same state. I know a good many people, suh, in Norfolk -- the Goodriches, the Tollivers, and the Crabtrees, suh, but I never had the pleasure of meeting yo’ friend, Colonel Hunter. I am happy to say, suh, that I am going back to Virginia to-night, after having spent a week in yo’ city with my wife and three daughters. I shall be in Norfolk in about ten days, and if you will give me yo’ name, suh, I will take pleasure in looking up Colonel Hunter and telling him that you inquired after him, suh.”

“Thank you,” said Jolnes; “tell him that Reynolds sent his regards, if you will be so kind.”

I glanced at the great New York detective and saw that a look of intense chagrin had come upon his clear-cut features. Failure in the slightest point always galled Shamrock Jolnes.

“Did you say your _three_ daughters?” he asked of the Virginia gentleman.

“Yes, suh, my three daughters, all as fine girls as there are in Fairfax County,” was the answer.

With that Major Ellison stopped the car and began to descend the step.

Shamrock Jolnes clutched his arm.

“One moment, sir,” he begged, in an urbane voice in which I alone detected the anxiety -- “am I not right in believing that one of the young ladies is an _adopted_ daughter?”

“You are, suh,” admitted the major, from the ground, “but how the devil you knew it, suh, is mo’ than I can tell.”

“And mo’ than I can tell, too,” I said, as the car went on.

Jolnes was restored to his calm, observant serenity by having wrested victory from his apparent failure; so after we got off the car he invited me into a cafe, promising to reveal the process of his latest wonderful feat.

“In the first place,” he began after we were comfortably seated, “I knew the gentleman was no New Yorker because he was flushed and uneasy and restless on account of the ladies that were standing, although he did not rise and give them his seat. I decided from his appearance that he was a Southerner rather than a Westerner.

“Next I began to figure out his reason for not relinquishing his seat to a lady when he evidently felt strongly, but not overpoweringly, impelled to do so. I very quickly decided upon that. I noticed that one of his eyes had received a severe jab in one corner, which was red and inflamed, and that all over his face were tiny round marks about the size of the end of an uncut lead pencil. Also upon both of his patent leather shoes were a number of deep imprints shaped like ovals cut off square at one end.

“Now, there is only one district in New York City where a man is bound to receive scars and wounds and indentations of that sort -- and that is along the sidewalks of Twenty-third Street and a portion of Sixth Avenue south of there. I knew from the imprints of trampling French heels on his feet and the marks of countless jabs in the face from umbrellas and parasols carried by women in the shopping district that he had been in conflict with the amazonian troops. And as he was a man of intelligent appearance, I knew he would not have braved such dangers unless he had been dragged thither by his own women folk. Therefore, when he got on the car his anger at the treatment he had received was sufficient to make him keep his seat in spite of his traditions of Southern chivalry.”

“That is all very well,” I said, “but why did you insist upon daughters -- and especially two daughters? Why couldn’t a wife alone have taken him shopping?”

“There had to be daughters,” said Jolnes, calmly. “If he had only a wife, and she near his own age, he could have bluffed her into going alone. If he had a young wife she would prefer to go alone. So there you are.”

“I’ll admit that,” I said; “but, now, why two daughters? And how, in the name of all the prophets, did you guess that one was adopted when he told you he had three?”

“Don’t say guess,” said Jolnes, with a touch of pride in his air; “there is no such word in the lexicon of ratiocination. In Major Ellison’s buttonhole there was a carnation and a rosebud backed by a geranium leaf. No woman ever combined a carnation and a rosebud into a boutonniere. Close your eyes, Whatsup, and give the logic of your imagination a chance. Cannot you see the lovely Adele fastening the carnation to the lapel so that papa may be gay upon the street? And then the romping Edith May dancing up with sisterly jealousy to add her rosebud to the adornment?”

“And then,” I cried, beginning to feel enthusiasm, “when he declared that he had three daughters” --

“I could see,” said Jolnes, “one in the background who added no flower; and I knew that she must be --”

“Adopted!” I broke in. “I give you every credit; but how did you know he was leaving for the South to-night?”

“In his breast pocket,” said the great detective, “something large and oval made a protuberance. Good liquor is scarce on trains, and it is a long journey from New York to Fairfax County.”

“Again, I must bow to you,” I said. “And tell me this, so that my last shred of doubt will be cleared away; why did you decide that he was from Virginia?”

“It was very faint, I admit,” answered Shamrock Jolnes, “but no trained observer could have failed to detect the odour of mint in the car.”



Coming next week, another painful classic.

31 May 2015

Not quite Forgotten: Todd Downing and Mexico

by Dale C. Andrews 
The forces of Evil have always been present in this strange country of Mexico, watered though it has been by the blood of saints.
                                                          Todd Downing 
                                                          Vultures in the Sky 

       The “golden ages” of both mysteries and Mexico are pretty much behind us.

       As to mysteries, diligent readers can still, at times, stumble onto the occasional forgotten trove of golden age “fair play” mysteries, where the plotting is stylish, the murders are relatively free of gore, and where all of the clues are handed to us yet we still reach the last page (or, perhaps, the penultimate page) befuddled. But today these are rare finds indeed. Agatha Christie remains in print, almost single handedly defying Professor Francis Nevin’s rule that the books die with the author. But most of the other golden age mystery volumes that once populated the library mystery shelves have, along with those authors, long since disappeared. 
 
Todd Downing pictured
on the cover of Clues and
Corpses by Curtis Evans
     Every once in a while, however, a surprise still drops into our laps. This recently happened to me when I read about the works of Todd Downing.  I confess that I had never heard of Downing, much less forgotten him, when I stumbled onto a Facebook post by mystery buff Curtis Evans sometime back reporting that Downing’s mystery novels had recently been re-issued. Evans, as it turns out, is a true Todd Downing scholar, and has written extensively concerning his works.  Downing, as Evans reported, had his heyday in the 1930s when he wrote a series of “fair play” mysteries usually featuring his recurring crime solver Hugh Rennert, a United States Customs Service agent. Rennert, in some respects, is like my old friend Ellery Queen. Both have a knack of invariably finding themselves dropped into a group of people one of whom is about to be murdered. But unlike Ellery, Rennert’s problems of deduction all involve the same setting: 1930s Mexico.

      Based on Curtis Evans’ Facebook recommendation I promptly ordered Downing’s Vultures in the Sky from Amazon. (An added bonus -- Vultures begins with a biographic sketch of Todd Downing written by Evans.)

       Vultures is set on the Aztec Eagle, the Mexican train that for many decades provided daily rail service between Nuevo Laredo and Mexico City. The novel’s sense of claustrophobia and mounting terror is heightened by the constricted setting of the first class accomodation of the Aztec Eagle as it meanders its way along its 1,100 mile day-and-a-half journey from the Mexican border to the capital. Think of Vultures in the Sky as a sort of Mexican analog to Murder on the Orient Express. And from the moment I began reading I knew that I was on familiar ground.   

       So -- why did Vultures speak personally to me? Well, although I am still young enough (thankfully!) not to have experienced Todd Downing’s Mexico of the 1930s, I am very familiar with the Aztec Eagle. It is the same train that I rode, on my own, during the summers of 1967 and 1968 -- my 17th and 18th years. (What were my parents thinking? I would have locked my kids in their rooms if they had proposed undertaking such an unchaperoned adventure in their teens.) 

My (ancient!) copy of
Mexico on 5 Dollars a Day
       Mexico was in a sleepy national siesta between Downing’s 1930s and my 1960s. Very little, including the trains, seemed to change. Throughout those years travelers moving south from the border depended on the Aztec Eagle, or more properly, La Aguila Azteca, the pride of Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México.  The train at one point in the early 1950s was made up of rail coaches specifically built in Switzerland for this flagship service, but those cars, due to a design defect, proved unreliable and were eventually replaced with the 1930s retired rolling stock from the New York Central Line that was first used in the 1930s. But for that one interlude, the same New York Central rolling stock therefore was in continuous use on the Mexican rail line for over forty years. So the cars comprising the train I traveled on in 1967 and 1968 were the same ones that provided the setting for Vultures in the Sky

       My teenage adventures in Mexico were momentous for me in many respects; so much so that I could never bring myself to part with the guidebook that was my bible throughout my five weeks of riding the rails each of those summers -- Mexico on 5 Dollars a Day, by John Wilcock. Here, in words that could have been taken from Vultures in the Sky, is the description of the Aztec Eagle from pages 22 and 23 of the 1966 edition of 5 Dollars a Day:

       The Mexican Railroad’s pride and joy is the glittering Aztec Eagle, which leaves the border town of Nuevo Laredo at 6:15 p.m. daily. Once you have boarded this and sat down to dinner, all kinds of exciting things happen. Take a look at the railroad company’s own brochure:
       “During your trip south, from an easy chair in the lounge, you may watch the dramatic panorama of Mexico unfold. On either side of the train stretch desert plains studded with dwarf and giant cacti. Suddenly, as though spun round on a revolving stage, the landscape changes to tree-dotted valleys. The train passes the Tropic of Cancer. Inside the air-conditioned cars there is no indication that the train has entered tropic territory.
       The train trip in itself is an introduction to Mexico -- to its rich agricultural areas, cacti-covered desert stretches, valleys and highlands. At times the train winds over giddy peaks, clings to sheer rock walls, looks down into steep ravines, crosses mineral-laden land, rushing mountain streams and great irrigated fields. Along the way there are small, typical Indian villages of adobe huts, processions of burros laden for market, Indian families dressed in regional clothes, serapes and rebozos. Whenever the train stops, they gather outside the cars offering for sale food, fruits, candy, drinks, bright woven basketry, serapes and other local handicrafts.” 
Typical Pullman Sleeper Car
       The Aztec Eagle that Todd Downing knew in the mid-1930s and the train I rode in the late 1960s was comprised of numerous second class cars and then, at the end, a fleet of first class accommodations. The first class cars, which were inaccessible to the second class passengers, included sleepers (both bedrooms and cars containing those Pullman seats that folded into bunks at night, remembered in the United States only from movies), a diner with a tuxedo maitre d', a club car, and a separate observation lounge car at the end of the train, which featured an elegant rounded art deco observation area where first class passengers could watch the track streaming out behind the train as we barreled through the deserts, jungles, and mountains of Mexico. 

Interior of typical Observation car
       The cost for all of this if you traveled first class? Well, according to Mexico on 5 Dollars a Day, (and consistent with my penciled expenses still tabulated in the margins) in the summers of 1967 and 1968 I shelled out 135 pesos for the trip. That worked out to $10.10. Of course, I had to pay for meals. If memory serves the steak dinner, accompanied by a glass of wine, was $2.30. A pre-dinner scotch highball (what fun! I was still years away from 21!) set me back 28 cents. 

The observation car at the
end of the Aztec Eagle
       Although The Aztec Eagle had staked its claim as flagship, a strong argument could be made for the proposition that that honor should at least be shared with the nightly train from Mexico City to Guadalajara. That train, all first class, was comprised of 18 Pullman sleepers, two diners, two club cars and two observation lounges. The train was so long that it left Mexico City’s Buena Vista station nightly in two sections, each propelled by its own set of engines. The trip itself was leisurely -- the train left at 8:20 each evening, and arrived in Guadalajara (under 300 miles to the north west) at 9:00 a.m. the next morning. Accommodations on the train sold out almost every trip -- prospective passengers had to reserve their tickets days in advance. The cost? According to Mexico on 5 Dollars a Day I paid around $6.00 to travel first class between Guadalajara and Mexico City. 

       It is a hard battle for any series of golden age mysteries to remain in publication (almost as hard as it has been for rail passenger service to survive). Mysteries run the risk of becoming dated, and the tastes of the reading public is apt to change. But that battle likely was a particularly difficult one for Todd Downing’s series, I suspect, since the series is set in the unfamiliar Mexico of his era.  That Mexico has simply ceased to exist. That era, and the Mexican trains as well, are gone. 

       When I was a child, before I discovered Mexican rail transporation, my father’s favorite vacation was a driving trip from St. Louis, Missouri (our home) to Mexico City. Part of that drive was along Mexico’s Route 101, which stretches from Matamoros, Mexico (across the Rio Grande from Brownsville) to Ciudad Victoria. One should question our sanity in undertaking this 3,400 mile round trip in the constraints of a two week vacation back then, but there is no question at all as to the the lack of sanity of someone attempting a road trip through central Mexico today.  And that is particularly the case along Route 101.  The Washington Post has this to say about present conditions along that highway: 
Mexico Route 101 -- The Highway of Death
       Highway 101 through the border state of Tamaulipas is empty now — a spooky, forlorn, potentially perilous journey, where travelers join in self-defensive convoys and race down the four-lane road at 90 miles per hour, stopping for nothing, and nobody ever drives at night.
        . . . .
       As rumors spread that psychotic kidnappers were dragging passengers off buses and as authorities found mass graves piled with scores of bodies, people began calling this corridor “the highway of death” or “the devil’s road.”  
     For a fictionalized (but I suspect accurate) view of what traveling through central Mexico is like today, try Michael Gruber’s latest book, The Return, and compare the horrors depicted there with the Mexico that I knew and that is depicted in Vultures in the Sky.  As The Washington Post also reported, even convoys traveling together down “the devil’s road” -- the stretch my family rolled along in our station wagon -- are not safe. Several years ago one such convoy failed to arrive in Ciudad Victoria. The charred bodies of 145 drivers and passengers were eventually found by the Mexican police in a desert fire pit. Even numbers did not buy safety, and facing a convoy meant nothing to the Mexican drug cartel.

       I read these news reports of current Mexican horrors, I remember the Mexico that I traveled through as a child with my family, and that I later traveled through alone as a teenager, and I am bewildered and saddened by the change that 50 years has wrought. 

       The Aztec Eagle and the nightly train from Mexico City to Guadalajara, in any event, are long gone. Except for two tourist lines -- one servicing the Copper Canyon, another running to and from a popular tequila distillery -- all Mexican inter-city passenger service is currently a thing of the past.  All of the other Mexican passenger trains were discontinued in 1995. We can't even blame the drug trade for this.  The decision pre-dated much of Mexico’s current descent into warring drug cartels. 

       For several years I taught a graduate course for the University of Denver that traced the history of transportation regulation in the United States. The gentleman who taught the course immediately following mine was an official of Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México. While visiting with him once I asked him about Mexico’s 1995 decision to abandon its popular passenger rail service and his response was a simple one: The railroad realized it could make more profit running one full boxcar of cargo between Mexico City and Guadalajara than it could running that 50 car first class passenger service between those two cities. 

       One could, of course, question that logic. Rail passenger service is subsidized virtually everywhere, including in the United States. The need for the service is not, necessarily, susceptible to a strict profit and loss analysis. It also requires a balancing of public transportation needs. But all of that is a different issue for a different article. The point here is also a simple one: the Mexico that Todd Downing knew in the 1930s, and that I knew in the 1960s, including The Aztec Eagle, is no more. Segun dicen en español -- Ya se fue. 

       But, then again, nothing stands still. Where we are today is not, necessarily, where we will be tomorrow. And sometimes you might, if lucky, get to go home again. Or, for our purposes, perhaps back to Mexico. 

High Speed Rail:  Still an Option for Mexico?
       Todd Downing’s books are already back, re-published in quality paper editions by Coachwhip Publications. And there may still be hope for a re-birth of Mexico as well. While the jury is still out on the outcome of the wars against the Mexican drug cartels that have laid siege over central Mexico, even with that there is at least some hope and some progress.

      And a renewed Mexican passenger rail system is also not beyond the realm of hope. The first fitful step -- and it would have been an enormous one -- has been the attempt by the Mexican government to build a high speed inter-city passenger rail system connecting the cities of Mexico.   In 2014 Mexico entered into a contract with a Chinese consortium to construct such a line but, in light of budgetary problems and continuing governmental scandals, the project was put on indefinite hold this past February. When and if that services is finally begun it is estimated that the trip from Mexico City to Guadalajara (that 12 hours overnight trip that I took as a teenager) would then take just over two hours.

       Two hours!  That’s hardly enough time to settle into your seat with a highball and a good Todd Downing mystery.


25 October 2011

Fair Play Mysteries and the Land of the Rising Sun



 And on the Eighth Day by Ellery Queen,
 Japanese Edition
By Dale C. Andrews

     Last spring I received a completely unexpected email asking for permission to publish The Book Case in a new anthology.  The volume is to be titled The Misadventures of Ellery Queen, and will include a number of Ellery Queen pastiches including, in addition to The Book Case, Mike Nevin’s classic Queen pastiche Open Letter to Survivors.

    There is sort of a surprise ending to all of this, but like most surprise endings if you think about it that revelation should have been anticipated:  The anthology will be published in Japan.  The stories will all be translated into Japanese.

    When last I posted on SleuthSayers it was back in September, and  I began by mentioning my lunch with Mike Nevins, emeritus professor of Law at St. Louis University Law School and noted mystery writer, critic and author of the fore-mentioned Open Letter to Survivors.  As mentioned then, Mike and I spent a good deal of time reminiscing about the writings of John D. MacDonald.  As our conversation turned to the growing lack of availability of MacDonald mysteries, even the Travis McGee series, Mike observed that with the exception of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle publication of a mystery writer’s work usually begins to disappear shortly after the author’s own demise.  I mentioned the complete lack of newly-published Ellery Queen mysteries in the United States and Mike shook his head dolefully and cautioned me not to expect any turn-around.

    Not in the United States, that is.

    But surprisingly the taste among readers for newly-published Golden Age mysteries varies drastically around the world.  My Belgian friend and sometimes collaborator Kurt Sercu, in his website Ellery Queen, a Website on Deduction, has noted that there have been new editions of Ellery Queen mysteries published in Russia, Spain and Italy during the last decade.  But the best exemplar of this is Japan, where the Golden Age fair play whodunit is alive and well, and where Ellery thrives. 

   
Iiki Yusan
    All of this was brought home to me yet again last week when Kurt asked me to edit an interview he conducted recently by email exchange with Iiki Yusan, who is the leader of the Ellery Queen Fan Club in Japan.  Kurt’s interview should be on-line in about a week, and can be accessed here when it goes on-line.  But I couldn’t resist offering up a bit of a prequel.

    First, by way of amazing statistics, Iiki estimated during the course of the interview that the percentage of books in print for Golden Age mystery writers in Japan looks something like this:


Agatha Christie: 90-100%
Ellery Queen: 80-90%
John Dickson Carr: 60-70%
Rex Stout: 10-20%

    While I do not know the relevant percentages in the United States, I do know that there are virtually no Ellery Queen works currently in print, and if you gave me $5.00 and required me to bet with it my wager would be that there are substantially more Rex Stout volumes available in the United States than there are Queen mysteries.   So what augurs a different result in Japan?  Why is Agatha Christie still popular in the United States while Ellery Queen has virtually disappeared?  Apparently there is something about fair play detective stories, and particularly those of Queen, that continues to resonate in Japan in a way that these stories no longer call out to the reading public in the United States.

Frederic Dannay and Ed Hoch 
    All of this goes beyond mere re-publication of the Ellery Queen mysteries.  For example, I was astounded to learn during the course of editing Kurt’s interview with Iiki that in Japan in 1980 there was a television series, modeled after Alfred Hitchcock Presents, that was hosted by none other than Frederic Dannay, just two years before his death in 1982. Queen works have continued to be the subject of movies, television shows and theatrical productions in Japan up to the present.  And Japan also has produced book-length treatises analyzing the works of Queen.  Iiki himself has authored Ellery Queen Perfect Guide (2004) and Reviews of Ellery Queen (2010).  In World Wars and Ellery Queen (1992) Kiyosi Kasai, traces the development of Golden Age murder mysteries in the context of the two world wars and concludes that the rise of the genre, in which well-developed characters were murdered, was a reaction to the countless faceless deaths of war.   And in The Logic of the Detective Story (2007) Kentaro Komori spends a full volume analyzing the deductive logic of detective fiction (especially Ellery Queen) by comparing the analytic approaches utilized in the novels with the philosophical reasoning of the likes of Bertrand Russel and Kurt Godel.  I doubt that such rigorous analyses of the works of Queen were ever undertaken in the United States, even when the works were in their heyday.

    Modern detective stories written by Japanese writers also continue to reflect the works of Queen.  In his on-line article Ellery Queen is Alive and Well and Living in Japan author Ho-Ling Wong reports that the new wave of fair play whodunits in Japan is referred to as the "new orthodox" detective story -- a story that hearkens back to Golden Age mysteries but does so by incorporating the fair play formula into modern settings.  And, as Ho-Ling Wong references, Ellery Queen's presence continues in these works.
 Other popular writers of the New Orthodox School are Norizuki Rintarō and Alice Arisugawa.  Both writers are strongly influenced by Ellery Queen. Both of them have named their protagonists after themselves, like their great example. Both writers often insert a Challenge to the Reader in their stories.  As one can derive from his first name, Arisugawa often delves into imagery of Alice in Wonderland, just like Ellery Queen, while Norizuki Rintarō’s characters mimic Ellery Queen almost exactly.  In fact, his protagonist is a writer, also called Norizuki Rintarō, who helps his father, a police inspector, mirroring the Ellery Queen – Inspector Queen dynamic.
   
    What is behind all of this continued interest in fair play detective stories in Japan?  Who can say?  But for whatever reason Golden Age mysteries have struck a chord there.  Mysteries founded on the deductive reasoning process continue to be one of the most popular forms of writing in Japan.  The following quote, still a bit stilted in translation, shows up often on the internet as an explanation for the popularity of the genre in Japan.  Predictably, it is offered up in an imagined conversation with Ellery Queen set forth in The Murders at the Ten-cornered Residence (1991) written by the popular Japanese writer Ayatsuji Yukito.

Ellery, the slim handsome young man says: 
To me, detective fiction is a kind of intellectual game. A logical game that gives readers sensations about detectives or authors. These are not to be ranked high or low. So I don't want the once popular “social sect” realism. Female employee murdered in a deluxe suite room; criminal police's tireless investigation eventually brings in the murdering boss-cum-boyfriend--All cliché. Political scandals of corruption and ineptness; tragedies of distortion of modern society; these are also out of date. The most appropriate materials for detective fiction, whether accused untimely or not, are famous detectives, grand mansions, suspicious residents, bloody murders, puzzling situation, earth-shattering schemes . . . .   Made up things are even better. The point is to enjoy the pleasure in the world of reasoning. But intellectual prerequisites must be completely met.    

    All of this makes me wish that I could read Japanese!  Be sure to check Kurt’s website in the next week or so for the full interview with Iiki. 

(Clip art courtesy of Kurt Sercu and Ellery Queen:  a Website on Deduction except as noted.)